Grief, marriage, life – ruminations

I’ve just finished reading Nora McInery Purmort’s book It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too).  It was one of those impulse buys in Waterstones – and a compulsive read (I’ve now passed it on to a friend).

There’s an awful lot in the book which reflects things I have thought and written myself, albeit triggered by different events and reasons.  She comments in one chapter on how grief makes you quite self-centred: I had been thinking recently how introverted and rather insular I had been as I moved through my depression.  To a certain extent I beat myself up for not thinking about others more, but I think it’s probably a survival of the fittest thing – face up to your blackest thoughts and moods on your own and come through them the stronger for it, and also give yourself the time to do so in order to recover.  Sadly, one of the things which stopped me being quite so self-centred was a friend’s husband leaving her: I began to think about her and supporting her rather than being quite so wrapped up in myself, although having said that I have only been able to do so as I had moved on enough from my blackest place.

I’ve always believed that too much time on your own engenders being self-centred in any case, but I also now think that sometimes it’s just necessary.  It’s like the passage I have previously referred to from Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, about walking into depression.  Recognising such feelings and living through them, instead of trying to sweep them under the carpet and pretend they don’t exist, is just sometimes what you have to do.  Nobody can be happy all the time: though Nora Mc P’s title is significant in that it is perfectly OK to laugh even in the middle of the worst grief you’ve ever suffered.  I’m sure the inmates of the concentration camps managed to laugh at times despite the appalling conditions in which they existed – they made the effort to form orchestras and play music, so why not also to laugh, difficult as that may seem?

There were a handful of passages in the book which I noted down as I wanted to keep them.  One chapter was, I think, perhaps as much as anything the writer wanting to make herself feel better – it was full of positive self-belief comments, and was about how you’re doing a good job.  I especially liked “you’re single because you just cannot be tamed right now”.  She also had things to say about marriage (I’ve always loved the comment that marriage should be to someone you can’t bear to be without, and also what she says which is “don’t marry a friend” – something which I’ve realised for myself (you need passion in a marriage): “Marriage isn’t supposed to feel like a cage, it’s supposed to feel like a hug that lasts just a few seconds too long”.

Related to that was her philosophy about life generally, and about giving up certain things, and taking risks: “the world will keep spinning, and your life will get a little bit better every time you give up on the shit that is taking you away from your one wild and precious life”.  And along the same lines, I can’t remember whether she wrote this or quoted it or I read it somewhere else: “Life’s journey is not to arrive safely at the grave in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting ‘holy fuck, what a ride!’ “.

The book was a fantastic reminder to live life to the full – to follow dreams and take risks (without being stupid about it).  Most of us still have to pay the mortgage and be responsible for our children, but we can surely do so whilst being true to the very essence of who we are.  And usually when you take the (sometimes brave or seemingly foolhardy) step of following a different path, of taking what appears to be a risk, things just amazingly slot into place and you find a happiness and fulfillment you never dreamed possible: your one wild and precious life.

One wild and precious life

Three weeks of (not) blogging…

It’s been three weeks since I last wrote a post.  When I started to write this post two children were upstairs shouting and the other was downstairs watching some rubbish on television… by the time I got round to finishing it, the following day, I had the house to myself and all was quiet.

I haven’t felt terribly inspired to write, do much singing practice, do marketing and promotion for either of those things, nor indeed be motivated to do much other than the day-to-day things I have to do, recently.  I’m not depressed – I have moments of sadness and of tears and also moments of joy and I have three musical/singing projects to start work on – but I do sometimes just feel tired, and sometimes rather devoid of any emotion, or at least any emotion which takes any energy, whatsoever.  I work; I look after my children; and I try to sort things out in terms of pensions, house, divorce… oh, and I must sort out my broadband and phone (landline and mobile) provider…

So what have been the highlights recently?  Well, the children all got good school reports, which was great, and we had a lovely weekend down in York at the Royal York Hotel with my parents – thanks to my parents.  I don’t think I’ve ever been somewhere where the service has been so consistently brilliant.  The hotel staff gave the impression that nothing was too much trouble and that loud, bouncy children were no problem whatsoever (in fact when I discussed it with one of the waiting staff in the restaurant he said that a drunk stag-party reveller is worse as at least my children are polite).  Bella rated the food as the best ever (and only days before she had been saying that Capernaum bistro in Brampton was the best ever – my cooking gets 7/10 compared with Capernaum’s 10/10, whereas the Royal York exceeded even that!).  Maybe it’s Yorkshire (or York) people generally as the staff at Pizza Express were also lovely.  Everybody seemed happy, and to be enjoying their work: perhaps the hot sunny weather had something to do with it.  Whatever the reason, I really enjoyed spending the time with my three children and we all enthused about the hotel.

The weather has been incredibly changeable – hot and stuffy for a couple of days followed by chilly and rainy.  Perhaps the most striking – and exciting – days were when we had thunder.  Edward and I had been feeding the neighbours’ fish while they were on holiday and for several days the weather had been almost perfect: dry, sunny and warm without being too stuffy.  Then it got heavier and thunder was forecast.  I woke up one morning to an amazing sky: dark, dark grey clouds but the morning sun making the houses shine red-gold.  I took a photograph, but it really doesn’t do justice to the incredible light and the contrast between the lowering sky and the brightness of the brickwork.  Just moments later the entire sky had darkened, the sun had disappeared, the rain was pouring down and it was thundering… exciting stuff!  (I love a good thunderstorm, particularly when we really need one when the air feels oppressive).

On another day when the outdoors was calling loudly to me, instead of being inside working I had cabin fever, and by the late afternoon/early evening I decided I had to go up Talkin Fell.  Previously I have described how the sky was blue above me but that I could see a band of rainclouds in the distance: it was similar this time but the other thing that struck me, which often strikes me, on starting the walk, is how noisy it is.  Not the urban noise of traffic and people and resonance from hard surfaces, but birdsong, dogs barking, cows mooing and the odd aeroplane high up but quietly clear.  I suppose there’s not that continual hum of background noise you get in a city so the individual noises are that much more distinct.

Once you’re at the top of Talkin Fell it’s quieter, and I know I’ve described before that ‘top of the world’ feeling.  This particular day I experimented with different settings on my camera, taking photos of the lovely white cottony flower thing (I have no idea what it’s called), which Phil Robbins used in the foreground when taking those fantastic photos of me on Caldbeck Fell.  My camera has loads of different settings and I have used only a few of them, but I want to get more experimental – I’m hoping I’ll get some good photos when I’m on holiday in Italy in September.  I particularly like the dark, almost black-and-white one, for this particular plant, though it looks better taking up an entire computer screen than reduced to fit in a blogpost.

Before I go to Italy we have the school summer holidays lying ahead of us.  We’re well into week one (week three for Alex) and with any luck we’ll get some decent weather and be able to enjoy being outdoors – or perhaps, as we did today, enjoy being outdoors even without decent weather: splashing in puddles remains fun even when you’re 12, and Bella’s white leggings had to go in the bin as I could not get the grass stains out (even with multiple doses of Vanish) from where all three children had repeatedly slid down a grassy/muddy bank at Carlisle Castle

My divorce has turned painful and costly; but even though I’m worried about how much it’s going to cost me in solicitor’s fees and whether I can really afford to go on holiday, I’ve blown my savings anyway on fulfilling a long-held ambition of going to Italy to learn Italian and then my birthday money from my Mum has been spent in advance on a holiday to Lanzarote later on.  I’m hoping getting away in the autumn will prevent any autumnal blues or depression… and money always turns up from somewhere when you really need it…  I can’t wait – it’s been 6 and a half years since I’ve had a holiday without the children and more than eighteen months since I went abroad skiing with them.  Last time I went to Club la Santa on Lanzarote I was pregnant with Alex.  I’m really looking forward to once again doing aerobics outdoors overlooking the Atlantic, and swimming in an outdoor 50m pool in November!

So however difficult things may feel from time to time, I have plenty to look forward to: and can’t help thinking that somehow everything has a way of sorting itself out for the best.  Such a change from how I felt even only two or three months ago!  Look out for news of my two new music projects on my ‘projects’ page before too long (and fingers crossed I also get more writing commissions soon).

Meanwhile from time to time… dolce far niente!





A Snowy Journey

OK, so I took down Chapter One (London) and I haven’t yet finished Chapter Two (France).  But here is Chapter Three in all its glory for you to enjoy or not… if you want to provide some feedback that would be great…  and if anybody knows Joachim from Munich, please say Thank You for the postcard but I didn’t have an address for him by then – and that I think this demonstrates that some of my best memories from Norway were of skiing with him.   I haven’t even mentioned the stave churches, or Lillehammer… One day I shall go back to Norway.


It was early February.  It was raining yet again in London.  It had been raining in London, it seemed constantly, for weeks.  I gazed out of the office window at the cars, buses and pedestrians splashing up and down Fleet Street and wondered for the umpteenth time what I wanted to do with my life.  Cycling into work at the moment was a pain: one arrived covered in filth and soaked to the skin having narrowly missed death by motor vehicle on several occasions and I was still in a temporary job, having seen no others I fancied applying for recently.

Lack of sunlight always depresses me.  It had got to the point where the rain was making me angry – I was beginning to take it as a personal affront.   Even on the days when life dawned bright and sunny, as soon as got on my bike to cycle home the heavens would open.

So the surprise phone call from the holiday company I had previously worked for was rather timely.  They needed a cross country ski rep in Norway as the rep who was already out there wanted to come home.  In some ways I knew straight away that there was no decision to make: this was my chance to escape.  I had never done any cross-country skiing, having seen people plodding around in circles around frozen lakes in France and having regarded it as rather boring and tame, but as I wasn’t too bad a downhill skier I thought I could master cross-country.  Being the insecure person I was my worries and doubts began as soon as I started thinking I’d probably go, of course.   Would I really manage to cross-country ski to a standard high enough that I could not only keep up with, even guide, the holiday clients but also teach the beginners some of the basics?  I spoke to a colleague who had skied in the police or the army or something before returning to a more sedentary civilian life.  His response was typical of him and put me at ease: “Well, you can skate can’t you?  And you’re one of those sickening sporty types – all muscle and bone.  No problem!”  I hasten to add that he always exaggerates and says I’m built for speed rather than comfort, but in fact I’m not as fit as I was and if nothing else this would, I hoped, be an opportunity to become fitter.

The following day I bought the Bike mag February edition.  Not only was there an article about Norway and how difficult it was to buy replacement inner tubes, but also a brief clipping on how cross-country skiing was excellent cross-training for cyclists.  Apparently Olympic cyclists use it for their winter training.  I had also read somewhere that it was more physically demanding even than swimming, and my worries and fears began to be surpassed by excitement.

For a while at least I would have no more office or tube claustrophobia (there were days when the rain was so off-putting that there was no way I was going to head off by pushbike into the vehicle-splashed-up dirt of the London streets with early morning rain pouring down on me); and, best of all, I would get away from this blasted rain.  I went mountain biking in the Peak District the weekend before I left and both days we had glorious sunny weather.  Oh well.

From the start Norway was different from any other country I had previously visited.  When I’ve been skiing in the Alps I have travelled from greenery up into the mountains, getting higher and higher and increasingly worried about the fact that there seems to be NO SNOW.  From the moment I landed in Oslo I was surrounded by snow and ice.  I had never seen so much snow, and found it difficult to believe that it could continue to fall, sometimes for days at a time, much the way the rain does in England.  A Norwegian woman I was talking to in the hotel one evening said “oh yes: it snows from November to May here.  We get as fed up with it as you do with your English rain!”

The plane came in to land immediately over a fjord on which people were skating, and the sense of anticipation and excitement I always feel to a greater or lesser extent when travelling, but which often diminishes when I reach a half-way point in the journey and am exhausted with the emotion of it all and the sheer movement from A to B, continued unabated.  I had none of that sense of ‘well, I’m in the country, what now?  Where do I go next?  Have I done the right thing?’  Everything was a delight, from the miniscule size of Oslo airport compared to Gatwick, Geneva or Paris, to the easy ride on the ‘Flybuss’ to Olso Central Station, through the wait at the clean and enclosed (i.e. not windswept and freezing) station – where time flew by as I people-watched and which was quite unlike the wait I had had when crossing Paris once, in a grubby station served coffee by a grumpy French waiter – to the train journey along the edges of icy and sometimes frozen lakes and rivers, with a train window sill to rest against which seemed to be heated.  Luxury.

Venabu, where I was to live in the FjellHotel, turned out to be nothing much more than a couple of hotels surrounded by holiday huts in the middle of nowhere, not too far to the north of Lillehammer.  However it was friendly and comfortable and many of the meals were buffets: I could eat as much as I liked and have gravad lax every night if I really wanted.  I do love smoked salmon and this was some of the best…  Alcohol was hideously expensive but what the hell – I was going to be healthy and this was meant to be therapy of a kind.

The basic cross-country ski technique proved to be fairly easy to pick up and I am sure that being able to skate and having strong quads from cycling helped.  What I did find difficult initially was keeping my arms straight and this was where, eventually, being a swimmer as well as a cyclist helped: remember the ‘tricep kickback’ in front crawl?  The other difficulty was hills.  Not the ascents, which just took extra effort (especially with the wrong wax on the skis) but the descents.  Where, oh where, were my alpine skis and boots?  These flimsy, long, thin skis with no heel attachment felt at first as if they had minds of their own!  Braking and turning sharp downhill corners seemed impossible: except I saw other people managing so was determined I would too.  Needless to say one improves with practice until alpine skis are the things which feel odd – heavy, cumbersome and unwieldy.  And I loved the daily ritual of waxing your skis each morning: taking off the old wax, the smell of the wax warming up, and then getting a fresh layer on your skis, the pots colour-coded according to the outside temperature.

Around Venabu there is a wide choice of tracks, cut and uncut.  The ‘railway lines’ not only go all over the plateau but also up into the mountains.  One of my favourite routes went up around Svartfjell (Black Mountain,) from where there was a magnificent view across to the Rondane National Park, and then across the saddle between Swarthammern and Tverrhogda.  From there it was downhill nearly all the way back to Venabu, the first bit down to Fremre Uksan being a ‘go for it whoosh’ – get in the tuck position at the top and don’t stand up until you come to a natural halt at the Fremre Uksan signpost, quads-a-quiver.

It’s amazing how your speed can vary with the quality of the snow (or ice), especially on ‘off piste’ sections.  Towards the end of my stay I sampled different types of conditions just in a single day trip from Venabu to Masaplassen, about 25km along the Troll-loype.

I find I notice small details when I’m away from home, especially when I’m alone.  The time is clearer and more defined; it takes on a new dimension.  There often seems to be much more of it and little details which in the humdrum routine of a week at home and in the office would slip by unnoticed, become vividly alive and important.  Day-to-day experiences somehow have more emotional impact: seeing a vole burrowing in the snow is a moving and memorable experience and I could watch the vole for minutes on end.  At home it would be all too easy in the daily rush to miss the vole completely.  On another day when a group of us had been out skiing in rather misty conditions, we had all jumped out of our skins when a snow ptarmigan had suddenly taken off between me and the skier behind me: it had been so well-camouflaged we had had no idea it was there.  Or there was the time when I was out on the tracks on my own one afternoon, and it was so quiet I could hear a bird’s wings beating as it flew overhead.  The latter was a moment which I think will stay with me for the rest of my life: that sense of absolute aloneness (even though I was hardly any distance from the hotel) and peace, apart from the gentle pulse of the wings.  That was a moment when my worries about what I was going to do with my life just melted away and were completely unimportant: solely what mattered was the here and now.


My trip along the Troll-loype was an opportunity to enjoy these small details and again to forget about my ‘real’ life in England.  It was sunny but bitterly cold when I set off with a German, Joachim, to whom I had got talking at dinner one evening.  He was skiing the entire Troll-loype, staying in ‘DNT’ (Norwegian Mountain Association) huts and some hotels en route.  The hotel at Venabu had promised to arrange for someone to collect me from Masaplassen while Joachim continued along the Troll-loype to Lillehammer.  Needless to say he was far more heavily weighed down than I, with a large backpack of his necessities for staying in the basically-provided huts as well as in the luxury of an hotel.   We’d been out skiing a couple of times, one day in temperatures of minus 15 which with a strong wind must have taken it down to about minus twenty or more with the wind chill factor.  In fact that day not only was it bitterly cold but we could hardly move either because of the wind, and it wasn’t long before we gave up trying to get anywhere and went back into the warmth of the hotel.

But Joachim had to move on, so on a relatively fine day we headed out of the hotel and joined the Troll-loype.  Bamboo posts mark the route as the Troll-loype is not usually cut, although there may well be tracks from other skiers who have passed the same way.  The wind was quite strong and cold as we departed, heading north, and the snow had become icy.  But the sky was blue, the sun was out, and we knew that as soon as we turned east the wind would be more or less behind us and would help us along.  So optimistically we battled around the edge of the frozen lake which Venabu overlooks, then cut away from the tracks and down into the little valley of the Myadalen, one of the many rivers and streams which cross the mountain-ringed Venabygdfjellet plateau.  Joachim suggested skiing up the river valley as it was more sheltered than the route the marked track took along the top of the adjacent slope.  Feeling a little apprehensive in case we suddenly plunged through the snow into icy water, I followed: which was when we saw the first spectacular view of the day.  Some discussion of which words would be used in German or English to describe such views ensued, Joachim summing it up neatly by concluding “I normally just say ‘wow’!”

The river beneath our feet was barely perceptible but the snow-clad valley walls reached above us, startlingly white against the blue sky, the snow folding over on itself like a blanket.  I think the biggest revelation for me in Norway was the sheer variety of the snow: not only the difference between new powdery snow and older stickier snow, but also the way it lies.  Sometimes it can be like skiing on icing sugar, fluffy and compacted all at once; sometimes it is like meringue as your skis cut through a crust into soft powder underneath; and sometimes it is icy, alternating often with powder so that you shoot along faster than you intended and then suddenly and unexpectedly slow up as the powder takes you by surprise and puts the brakes on for you (in my inexperienced case all too often leading to a fall).

The snow also forms all sorts of different patterns.  Some are like waves of drifted sand, and especially when the wind is wispily brushing away the surface you can believe you are in a cold and white desert.  Some patterns look like white semi-buried bones; some like rock strata; and some have a small, mossy pattern.  The same route rarely looks the same twice, as I had discovered even in the short time I had spent in Norway.

We joined the Troll-loypa proper at Brennflya, marked, like all junctions in this area, by a wooden signpost.  In other areas they have signposts accompanied by a map of the entire region and a red circle with ‘you are here’ distinctly marked on it.  To me the latter spoils everything: it makes it too easy, and is far too similar to being a tourist in a strange city.  I enjoyed trying to match up my map to the signpost, which sometimes doesn’t point in quite the direction along the trails one might expect.  “Troll-loypa” the Brennflya signpost said in red on whitened wood, “Osksendalen 22km”.  Oh good – we’d completed 3km of the trip and just had the remaining 22km to do.


Joachim’s ‘real’ map of the area had informed him that we could see a waterfall from the Troll-loypa near the next signpost at Dorfallet (which means, unsurprisingly, ‘Waterfall’).  We could see nothing, and as there is the danger of avalanches due to the snow overhangs on the edge of the canyon which runs south from Dorfallet, we decided to play safe and not to go too near the edge (a brief aside: the canyons were created when a lake went ‘down a plughole’ in the sandstone at the end of the glacial period).

We realised soon after this point that we were not the only ‘explorers’ on this route: a lone skier caught up with us and overtook us, soon vanishing into the distance and leaving us alone again (much to the chagrin of my competitive spirit).  But then he wasn’t carrying a heavy backpack nor stopping to take photos at every ‘wow’ view, but possibly training for the race which was due to take place along the route in a fortnight’s time.

We could see back to Venabu and also across to Kvitfjell (the downhill slope near Ringebu, used in the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics).  We weren’t just out in the middle of nowhere, but explorers in the Norwegian mountains, dwarfed by the white wilderness around us which stretched for miles but which at least had some definition (unlike skiing in a white-out) and reference points in terms of peaks and valleys which could be named and located with the aid of the map.

We stopped at a brook for lunch, with interesting ice formations above the rushing water.  We took shelter behind some trees nearby which were so deeply buried in snow they were more like bushes, and turned our skis upside-down in time-honoured tradition to use as a bench.  I discovered that the thermos flask I had been carrying had failed in its duty of keeping hot liquids hot, and tried to mix my ‘choc’n’orange’ powder into a drink with tepid water.  It was not particularly drinkable – in fact it was vile – and I tipped it out in disgust, feeling guilty at making an ugly dark brown stain on the pristine white snow.   Fortunately my German friend had brought with him that most English of drinks: tea.  And it was hot.

I had provided myself with two bread rolls as a packed lunch, while Joachim had packed a lunch which seemed to consist mainly of dried fruit and chocolate.  Having proudly told me that ‘Milka’ chocolate was German (I always thought it was Swiss), he made the mistake of offering me some.   When has a girl ever said no to chocolate?

Fortified by lunch, we set off once more and we soon arrived at the next signpost which bore the surprising news ‘Masaplassen/Oksendalen 7.1km’.  We had a cold drink to celebrate which tasted to me like a rather nasty form of Lemon Meringue Pie, but which Joachim insisted was orange.  The conversation turned round to a time when Joachim had been staying in a B&B in the Lake District and the landlady had insisted on giving him cornflakes with the milk already on them, so they went disgustingly soggy.  After a brief conversation about various countries’ culinary oddities (going to Munich and being served just a huge slab of meat loaf; baked beans; frogs legs and snails), we set off again.  At the next signpost we joined what in summer is a road.  The snow – or rather lumps of ice – meant that it was bumpy and quite hard-going, but we were rewarded by views across the Gudsbrandsdal valley to the mountains of ‘Peer Gynt’ land: breath-taking.

We turned right and decided that it might be easier to ski off the road rather than on it, only to find that the open ground was nearly as icy.  At one point, my downhill skiing on ice being a little more hesitant than Joachim’s  – or perhaps ‘more uncontrolled’ would be more accurate – I found I was flying down a slope in the wrong direction, moving further and further away from my skiing companion and the next signpost.  It didn’t take long to cover the extra ground, to discover that the signpost only stood about 15cm above the surface and that the writing had faded so as to be almost invisible.  With the help of the map we worked out that one way indicated Masaplassen and the other Pulla.

Turning in the Masaplassen direction we found ourselves on the most wonderful fast but soft, compacted icing sugar track, with deep powder either side.  My pride was somewhat appeased when Joachim, definitely the better skier, suddenly fell over backwards in some deep snow which had taken him by surprise.  It always makes me feel better when the experts fall over too: there must be hope for me yet.  I was also pleased not to fall over in the way I had done a few days’ earlier, when, taking a corner too fast, I lost control of my steering completely and flew off the track head first into a snow drift, just to lie there laughing while several other skiers whistled past, probably wondering what on earth I found so funny.

The track wound its way prettily up and down amongst some trees, until it suddenly came out on a four-lane cross-country skiing motorway which took us up to a road.  After a fairly short and level track you then turn off the Troll-loypa onto a steepish downhill, at which we shot quickly but safely and enjoyably to the bottom and across the road into the café at Masaplassen for coffee and cake.  I felt a sense of achievement at being there, of pleasure at having completed a real tour, albeit to some people a short and non-challenging one.  It was such a pleasant place to end a journey: the wooden buildings snuggle amongst the trees in direct opposition to Venabu’s windswept position in the middle of a plateau.  I liked them both.

But whilst I loved being in Norway and skiing nearly every day, rather than being confined in an office in London, I missed my friends and my social life.  I can still clearly remember the day I was skiing along on the loype near the hotel with a client who happened to be an architect.  I suddenly realised that what I really wanted to do with my life was return home – to London – but that my main purpose for working was that I could then afford to travel to some of the many places in the world I wanted to, and to go on activities holidays.  After all many outdoor sports take place in some of the most spectacular scenery this world of ours can offer: and whilst sometimes progressing up the career ladder has some appeal, what is the point in arriving at the pearly gates and not having done many of the other things you wanted to do?  Someone once said to me that if you don’t experience the wider world then your own world shrinks, and the very truth of that rang clear to me straight away.

Meanwhile whilst Joachim was set to stay a night at Masaplassen and then ski onwards tomorrow, I had Venabu’s Norwegian buffet supper to look forward to.

And at least it would be spring when I got back to England


Children – and finding peace

At top of Hartside 10th Nov (2)The pendulum swings… I was on a high for much of last year, loving my newly-found state of being single and free from being a domestic drudge (as I had felt).  I loved my child-free time but also loved seeing them, and had enough money to treat them to things and take them places.  Having felt trapped and resentful within a marriage which was plodding along, the love having died some years earlier, life then swung the opposite way.

It’s now settled back down a bit: but the interesting thing is that I now miss the children far more when they’re not around than I did for much of last year.  I love my single time, when I can write or sing or meditate or see friends – but the house feels empty and I miss the touch of warm squishy arms and children’s kisses. It’s made me realise how very hard it is for people to separate when children are involved: how low David must have been feeling (and for a long time) to want to leave badly enough that he was prepared to risk not seeing much of his children.  He and I have no feelings for each other, apart from a vague sort of friendship, if it can even be called that – the things that annoyed me about him when we were together still annoy me, but I’m now separate from them rather than living with them day-to-day: likewise I’m sure the things that annoyed him about me still irritate him at times in the same way. There’s no way we’d want to be back together, and the children seem to have adjusted happily to their new life with two homes: and at least we only live a few streets apart.

But the love you feel for your children… well, that’s surely the strongest love one can ever feel.  Certainly I was overwhelmed on the arrival of all three of my children at just how much love I felt for them: a love which seems to take over and possess you, which you can’t deny.  And with all three of them there is a special and individual angle to that love: the horrible ‘labour’ I had with Alex and the fear that he would die, so the relief when he was then finally in my arms, and the joy of my maternity leave; the beauty of Isabella who, even being delivered by c-section, was exercising her lungs and making her presence felt before she was out in the world; and the miracle that is Edward, who I had so late in life and yet who is – like the others – so perfect.  And so Heavy Metal and funny and loving.  Anything approaching that depth of love occurs infrequently between two adults and is a different thing in any case, a precious and rare thing.

As these thoughts and more whirled around in my head, I was reminded of something I wrote last year.  Here it is:

Finding Peace

Peace is, in the words of the hymn, the still, small voice of calm.  It resides somewhere inside your ribs and runs like a silent light through your body from tip to toe.   It doesn’t explode energetically with the vim and vigour of joy; it runs deeper than mere contentment and acceptance; it is less materialistic and self-centred than fulfilment.  All those are elements which can lead to peace but the real sense of peace is that connection with the world – with the universe – when all is still and for a few moments you can just Be.

Peace can be found in the eye of a storm; in the tiny things which happen in the middle of the tumult and craziness of everyday life.

When I lived in bustling, busy, big cities, peace was often hard to come by.  In the heart of the city a visit to a cathedral would provide some peace.  I would step in off the rushing street and wander in amongst the shadows, small against the grandeur of the building, hoping that not too many tourists would be there chattering and clicking away with their cameras.  The age of the building and the fact that I was just yet one in a long line of people who had trodden these stones, some perhaps with similar worries and woes, was a comfort.  I might sit in a side chapel and contemplate life for a few moments; I might light a candle in the hope that somehow my anxieties and pain would be carried up and away and be eased.  When I stepped back out into the hustle of the rush hour I would carry a morsel of peace with me: for a short time.

The countryside has always provided more peace for me than the centre of a city.  There is something soothing deep into your being about sitting overlooking water, or pausing at the top of a hill or mountain with the wind in your hair, or running amongst the trees.  It’s a force so much more powerful than man: it can take life but it also gives life.  It can provide a tangible sense of escape: get on that water and where might it take you?  All around the globe, if you choose.  And ultimately it reminds us that we are part of nature; that we are made of the same matter as the stars: ‘star dust to star dust’.

Peace is running up to the Ridge and looking across to the Solway Plain and over to Scotland.  It’s pausing for a breather with the sun on your face while running through Rowbank Woods, and looking across at the northernmost Pennines; or lolloping through Quarry Beck Woods with snow floating down with a whisper around you, creating a hushed world where only the crunch of your footsteps and the gentle rushing of the stream can be heard.  Peace is running to the top of one of the hills overlooking Lanercost Priory, once so troubled and now so tranquil, to see it huddled there amongst the greenery, centuries of history wrapped in its walls; or having ascended Talkin Fell on a clear, sunny spring day to gaze across at the shadowy Lake District fells or towards Scotland where the ghosts of ancient reivers charge silently across the border.  Peace is running up Carron Crag in Grizedale Forest and seeing a world of peaks spread around you from the top, pointing hazily up amongst the clouds.

But a deeply fulfilling peace is the children asleep at night after an energetic day.  However fraught or frenetic with fighting or fears the day has been, when they are asleep they look seraphic.  As I creep into their rooms to kiss each of them goodnight my heart fills with a deep, peaceful love.  I have made lots of mistakes in my life but bringing these three people into the world was not one of them.

Goodnight, my cherubs; my best beloved.

Flying (running) free

I’ve just been out for a run in Ridge Woods.  It’s a sunny day but windy and I felt the odd spot of rain and could see rain clouds in the distance.

I felt alive in the woods: that strong physical sense of feeling good in my body (and in my heart and head) and of being part of nature.  I could have stood at the top of the Ridge, gazing out towards remote northern Cumbria and across to Scotland, the wind tossing my hair and blowing through my clothes, for ages.

In part what I’m feeling is a fantastic sense of freedom and of being who I really am.  Being single and a ‘part-time’ Mum (physically – not emotionally) has given me back my sense of self: along with my singing and writing and now the fact that I’m working as a surveyor again.  I don’t feel tied to anything: I keep the house clean and tidy because I want to now, not because it’s an enormous mess which nobody else will bother to tidy up; and emotionally I feel more free to express myself than I did when I was married – or perhaps I’m more confident about expressing myself.

It’s sad that it takes a relationship ending for someone to feel more herself than before, but I keep being reminded of a saying the French have: ‘the bonds of marriage are so heavy that it takes two people to carry them and sometimes three’.  For the French it’s an excuse to have affairs: I think it highlights that marriage – where children are involved at least – can be (at its worst) an enormous drain on people.  However that’s also quite a negative view and in fact a good marriage should be about teamwork and support and – this is the bit that I’ve realised matters to me – flying free together.  Someone commented recently, when I said I had thought I’d got married for life, that marriage should be something you enter into because you can’t bear life without that person (or words to that effect).  Nuances of meaning and interpretation can totally change the way you feel about something – I thought that was a far better, more lovely, way of looking at marriage than ‘I made a commitment for life and I need to stick to it’.

So what’s brought on all this reflection (nothng new there), other than the wind and the trees? Partly the fact that I met David’s new girlfriend this morning – and shook hands with her.  She seems lovely (and TALL!) and is keen enough to be step-mother to my children that she’s been watching YouTube videos about how to do Bella’s hair – not something I’ve ever done (sorry Bella – but maybe I offer you something else as a mother).  Having said he wasn’t going to ‘settle down’ again I think that’s exactly what David’s doing, and she seems just right for him as far as I can tell: and I do genuinely hope they’ll be happy and settled, and maybe have another baby.  Edward is desperate for a baby brother or sister and it’s not something I’m going to be providing.

And me?  I’m singing in a concert tonight and planning on running up Talkin Fell or going for a bike ride somewhere remote tomorrow!

Separation, one year on.

One year ago today, i.e. the Sunday of the May half term week, and not long after my parents had left after staying to help with the children, David told me he was thinking of leaving.

The weather had been lovely: I had got out on my bike several times.  However I had cycled with a black weight of resentment on my back: resentment that I felt I was doing most of the housework and that David seemed detached not only from me but from the children.  I have a clear memory of cycling in a vaguely northerly direction and thinking that perhaps I should just keep going; that I should run away from home.

My initial reaction when he told me he was thinking of leaving was a mixture of anger, hurt and incredulity.  Yes, we had spoken about living parallel lives; yes I was aware that we spoke of little to each other than the children; yes I was conscious that when we had gone out together I had ended up feeling as if I was reaching out in the dark to someone whom I could only dimly see.  But surely, I thought and hoped, this was a common situation for many people with young children, and it would improve as the children got older and we had more time for each other again.

One year ago we started going to marriage guidance counselling.  I wanted to save my marriage.  David had been brave and honest enough to express clearly how dire the situation was; I could see that I had grown distant to him but hoped that together we could repair the damage.  Each counselling session I sat there with tears rolling down my face, trying to reach out: guilty and sad that I had not given him the love he craved.  I went for a lunchtime run one day and ended up crying: one of my best friends phoned me and I chatted to her whilst I stood in the sun at one of my favourite spots, the trees in the field behind Talkin Tarn where you can gaze up at Talkin Fell.

In July my efforts seemed to pay off and we had a couple of lovely weekends where it was like having a new relationship.  However it was not to be: shortly afterwards David said he could not switch his feelings back on; shortly after that, having been out for lunch with a female, single (divorced) friend, he told me he was moving out.  Alex, my beautiful but sensitive older son, not having been bidden farewell by his father on the day David actually moved out, stood at the door and howled for his father and I felt his agony almost physically.  For a couple of months anger – anger that he could treat my son like that, and anger that he could make it all up with me and then toss me aside again – gave me a new energy and I loved my new, single life, making the most of being able to go away at weekends without the children in tow.

Then the financial reality hit and by November I was highly stressed.  Alex again was the one who suffered, becoming deeply unhappy and tearful: unhappy that I was stressed and unhappy; unhappy that Isabella was spikey (and probably unhappy).  My letters to the Child Tax Credits office – and then to the Adjudicator’s Office when the CTC proved totally incompetent – became increasingly desperate.  I went on a spa weekend and was violently sick: Caroline is still convinced that it was a psychological ‘cleansing’ and I think she may well be right.

By Christmas we were beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel.  My tax credits finally came through and I could sort out things like the mortgage, and see what my monthly income and expenditure were; I seemed to have some male interest in me; and every-so-often someone would make a pertinent comment which would help me with whichever particular aspect of the separation was bugging me at the time.

We now seem to have settled into our new routine, the children and I.  David’s words that he thought I wanted to save our marriage because I was afraid of being on my own, which I knew were untrue, have been proved untrue.  After years of feeling unattractive – a household drudge – I feel attractive and, what’s more, free, again.  2014 might have had good weather but it was the year of broken things.  Next time I start to complain about the cold, wet, almost wintery weather we are still having – on the eve of June 2015 – I must just remind myself that whatever the weather, I am happy, and enjoying enormously re-establishing contact with friends, many of whom I had hardly seen since meeting David.

Sadly, I have not lost through my separation, but gained: rewon part of myself.  But I also have the added bonus of three lovely children.

Shining Stars

Isabella was a Shining Star at school today: for artwork.  Funnily enough for a child who is rarely backward in coming forward, she didn’t tell me herself.  Perhaps the reason she’s been so naughty this week is because she’s been so creative…  creative in terms of stories as well.  An apology is due to Nano blocks as the packet of missing bricks (see previous post) turned up somewhere in Bella’s room.  It had clearly been hidden as I spent a long time thoroughly cleaning, tidying up and rearranging her room at the weekend while she was away and didn’t find it.

Having said that an apology is due to Nano blocks, it’s a limited one as they didn’t bother even to acknowledge my email telling them that some blocks were missing.

My tempestuous middle child may have been officially a shining star at school this week, but I’m proud of all three of them for Sports Day as well.  The last event of the afternoon was a race in which all the children took part.  Edward wanted to run too so I asked Alex to start with him.  Three-quarters of the way around the sports field, Bella took over running with Edward and Alex headed off more rapidly.  In the second field (by which time Edward was still, bless him, running) Alex got to the finishing line – and then turned back to get Edward.  All three of my children ran over the finishing line together, in last place but united.  I gave them all a huge cheer, proud of Edward for having run so far (the youngest competitor) and of the other two for having been supportive of him.

I then later went for my own run.  Up in Ridge Woods I suddenly noticed the blue mist of prolific bluebells under the trees; when I got to the top the wind was rushing across from Scotland, blowing through me as if to sweep me clean.

I’m now having a peaceful evening minus children, about to do the ironing (sigh – one of my least favourite tasks) and watching the recent film of Anna Karenina, as I finally have the means to play the DVD.  I love the way that some of it is filmed as if it were a stage play and there are some beautiful scenes, as well as some very clever ones (the train theme, whilst being obvious, I really like).  I should perhaps re-read the book once I’ve finished the great pile of books currently by my bed!

Oh for a dark red shot silk ball gown… if I would ever get a chance to wear one…


I am a sucker for soppy films.  I haven’t watched Sleepless in Seattle for ages but know that I have wept at it in the past and will do so again.  David used to have to remind me that things weren’t real: Alex was disgusted that Isabella and I sat there with tears rolling down our faces, hugging each other, when the dog died in Marley and Me.

I’ve always been a bit prone to tears but pregnancy and having children has made it far worse.  While pregnant with Alex I had to stop watching Casualty or Holby City or whichever it was (is?) that was on each Tuesday night.  Every Tuesday there seemed to be a story line about a pregnant woman who invariably had a near miss with death, or whose baby/child did.  The true account of a dying woman who left detailed instructions to her husband on how to bring up their daughter had floods of tears rolling down my face all the way to work one morning; more recently the atrocious and gruesome murder of Becky Watts has got me similarly churned up.  Likewise someone only needs to be telling me about some problem or other he or she is suffering from and my eyes fill with tears.

The comedy film Mrs Doubtfire has never previously made me cry: but watching it this evening with Isabella and Edward I realised there is a serious side to the story; a story which now seemed all too pertinent to my own situation.  A couple are unhappy; she is driven, ambitious, busy, career-minded, orderly and organising: he is more laid back, adores his children and is a fun Dad but somewhat irresponsible.  When she decides they should separate he is devastated that he won’t be able to see his three children every day: ultimately there is a happy ending and he does get to see them every day.

When I first watched it I, romantic idealist, thought that at the end they were perhaps going to get back together.  As I have got to know the film better I realise that it’s unlikely, and that the adults (the parents) are happier apart.  What it emphasised today to me was how important it is that children see both their parents regularly, even if they live apart: and how they will still love them both equally and of course potentially develop positive relationships with new partners as well.  Moments in the film today made my eyes fill with tears: and of course it’s the children who suffer the most when their parents split up.

This time when I watched it I couldn’t help identifying to a certain extent with Miranda, the mother in the film.  Our sympathies are constantly drawn to Daniel/Mrs Doubtfire – he is more fun, more laidback, and appears more passionate about his children – but having lived with someone whose untidiness and, at times, lack of organisation drove me bonkers, today I had more sympathy for the mother.  And, of course, at the end she does the right thing: she approaches him, says they should no longer need to fight, and invites him to see his own children every day (which of course also solves her childcare problem, being cynical).

At school our English teacher always said that comedy is far more complex than tragedy.  Mrs Doubtfire, despite being an apparently light film, illustrated that to me when I watched today.  A parallel sadly reflected in the talented Robin Williams’ tragi-comic life.


The house is quiet and feels empty.  After a short burst of after-school mania it fell suddenly and strangely quiet  when David arrived and whisked the children off to Forfar for the weekend to see their cousins and grandparents.  Having seen the children every day for the past three weeks (almost), a weekend without them – with them almost 200 miles and a motorway journey away – is going to seem a little strange.

Normally I relish my ‘quiet single time’, as anyone who has read any of my other blogposts will know: and I’m not unhappy now, just suffering from a tinge of sadness.  In fact they’ve been driving me bonkers much of the time this week and I have plenty of things planned for the weekend – but I awoke yesterday feeling slightly melancholic and the feeling hasn’t yet passed.

I’m not sure why I felt this pensive sadness yesterday.  Perhaps it was just tiredness, but I felt a little gloomy at work.  I had a practice yesterday evening at St. Cuthberts in Carlisle for tomorrow’s concert, which went well I think – though I really need to revise some of my words and entries! – and woke up singing this morning.

A text from my brother in law to say his wife is pregnant was thrilling but made me acutely aware that I will have no more children.  I don’t actually want any more but being almost through the menopause means I won’t be able to anyway (let alone the fact that I don’t have a partner at present).  I can’t complain: having been undeservedly and ridiculously fertile into my late 40s and having three gorgeous children is more than I could have dreamed of.  For women who want, but haven’t had, children, every time they hear of someone close to them becoming pregnant it must be like a knife turning in a never-healing wound.

Then I had an argument with David about money.  We seem to argue more now than when we were together: either we care less so it matters less, or we were both burying feelings when we were together.  The trouble is that rowing still upsets me and makes me feel vulnerable: I feel attacked and criticised and unsure whether to fight back or just to let it drop.  After all I have to live near this man, and he is the father of my children.  The temptation to move further away is still strong, but perhaps that would just be running away from the pain rather than facing up to it and becoming stronger.

Come what may, I have a roaring fire in the wood-burner, a concert tomorrow at which I am going to wear my new sparkly red dress, loads of writing and decorating to do, and my friend Kath is coming round shortly for a run and for supper.  Whilst the tears don’t feel far away at present, I have a fantastic weekend to look forward to and I am sure by the time the children arrive home on Sunday evening my mood will have lifted and there will be cuddles and laughter with them before bedtime.


It’s five years since I last went skiing.  At that point there was no Edward, and David and I left Alex and Isabella here at home with my in-laws, and went off to Chamonix for a long weekend together.  I think it’s the only holiday we had together without children: partly as neither of us ever really wanted to leave the children behind.

I remember feeling bereft when I said goodbye to him at the bus stop, as he was travelling back a couple of days ahead of me.  I was quite relieved as it showed I still cared about him: in the busy-ness of every day life with two young children it’s easy to feel you are losing touch with your partner.  Perhaps we should have had more weekends away like that: the problem was, of course, that once Edward came on the scene as well and I had no job, we couldn’t afford it.  That skiing trip was paid for out of the inheritance I was given not long after we moved to Cumbria.  This skiing trip was paid for by my mother, out of another inheritance.

The previous time I hadn’t actually been that impressed by Chamonix.  We had stayed in an hotel a bus trip outside the town centre and then in a self-catering apartment which necessitated a walk uphill in ski boots and carrying skis to the main telecabine which accesses the Brevent ski area.  This time my view of Chamonix was completely different.  We were staying in the Club Med hotel, right at the foot of a button lift which provided access to the telecabine, and at the bottom of a beginners’ ski area – perfect for the children.

The Club Med staff were fantastic: friendly and helpful and with superb English for those times when our French wasn’t up to scratch (in fact I spent most of the week in a slightly schizophrenic state, never quite sure which language to speak).  The food was superb as well: and with four buffet-style meals a day (breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner) we could have put on stacks of weight. Skiing holiday Chamonix Feb. 2015 (28) The children loved being able to help themselves to diet pepsi and piles of puddings: the ice-cream was especially popular, Bella loving mango and Edward one he called ‘pink milk flavour’ (actually candy cane: I thought it was revolting – far too sweet and with crispy bits of something sugary in).  Having cake and vin chaud in the last rays of the sunshine outside the hotel after being out all afternoon in the fresh air was a lovely, warming experience.Skiing holiday Chamonix Feb. 2015 (8)

Skiing was probably in some ways the least successful part of the holiday.  As part of our package I could have gone out all day every day with a guided group, but I had only got the children booked in to afternoon lessons and it soon became clear that my plan of spending time with the children in the morning, skiing in the afternoon and my parents being able to wander off and explore in the afternoon, was not going to work.  I think I had one afternoon when I skied on my own, rushing over to Flegere and back again, getting the last cable car back across to the Brevent area.  Skiing holiday Chamonix Feb. 2015 (29)However Alex and Bella got their ‘Flocon’ award and looked pretty confident and controlled coming down the slopes doing snow plough turns.  Edward on the other hand didn’t enjoy his lessons and whilst he went to some, encouraged by a Frenchman called Fabian who was absolutely brilliant with him, I felt that perhaps he was just a bit young to start and that next year might be a different matter.  I know children cry and cling to their mothers almost deliberately to make their mothers feel bad, but when you’re meant to be on holiday and enjoying yourself it’s a bit rotten if you’re being made to do something you’d really rather not do.

We also didn’t explore that far afield.  One day we caught the bus – eventually – up to Le Tour and Alex, Bella and I skied a few green runs up there (I remembered coming down the red previously several times and really enjoying it) but the sun was really hot that day and I just didn’t feel I could keep my Mum and Dad and Edward sitting around waiting for us for ever.  In fact as it turned out it was just as well we caught an earlyish bus back as my Dad was then sick: my Mum and I concluded it was sunstroke.

Skiing holiday Chamonix Feb. 2015 (47)By then (Friday) the snow was pretty slushy at the bottom and quite icy higher up.  We really badly needed a fall of snow, and on Saturday afternoon the weather obliged, Alex turning up for his lesson with no coat and no goggles… I rushed back to the room to get them and it was just as well I did as snow fell heavily all afternoon and then again overnight.  The day we left we woke up to near-perfect skiing conditions.  Typical!

But it was time to go home.  The day we had caught the bus ‘up the valley’ we had met Daniela, a Brazilian lady, and her daughter Naomi, and the first bus we had got on had left my Dad, Daniela and Naomi behind.  Daniela and I talked about how we’d look on it as a bit of an adventure and part of the experience of the holiday, but we also both felt by then that it was time to go home.  Funny how you start to feel like that but then when the time comes you don’t want to after all…  However my Mum had also had a call from my Grandmother’s nursing home saying that she (my grandmother – 103) was unlikely to last the weekend.  In fact of course she proved the doctors wrong yet again (they gave her just two weeks to live when she first had her stroke aged 100) and is still alive, but even so I could see my Mum felt bad about being away and would be keen to head back down to Somerset as soon as she could.

Skiing holiday Chamonix Feb. 2015 (25)We had had a lovely time not only skiing and eating too much but going shopping in Chamonix and to the museums of crystals and of alpine mountaineering.  I wouldn’t do an all-inclusive package again as I don’t think we got real value for money, at least in terms of the skiing (we had to pay for the children’s lessons as extras) and also I’d prefer self-catering so that I could eat in different places and also have a bit more control over what the children consumed: when diet pepsi is on tap and children can help themselves it’s a trifle difficult persuading your 4-year old that really diet pepsi is not a good drink at breakfast time (fortunately there was orange juice and apple juice on tap as well).  It would also mean that the children could eat at their normal tea time and go to bed slightly earlier than they did on holiday, though they all slept well and didn’t wake up too early.  What we did make some use of though was the swimming pool and it was magical swimming outdoors with snow-covered mountains as the backdrop.

As for Chamonix itself: this time I loved it, and I was seriously considering whether I could get a job out there, even if only for the next winter season.  Alex was heart-broken by the idea so maybe not yet.  But I had forgotten just how much I love being in France; and I also had not realised that the young, free and single me who loved travelling and exploring and having few ties, is still there inside me.